Saturday, September 26, 2020

Weekend Reading: The Holding On to Reality Edition

Yesterday, Pumpkin was invited to go to watch the Ruth Bader Ginsburg movie in a friend's backyard. We decided to turn that down. Two hours sitting near the same people, even outdoors, felt risky to us, particularly since we don't know the hosts well. I saw pictures from the event on Instagram and I think it would have been fine. Everyone was wearing masks. 

If Pumpkin had cared a lot about the event we may have let her go, but she'd already seen the movie (watching it with her history teacher last year was an event we could bid on in the school auction - she loves that particular teacher so we made sure we bid enough to get her a spot). And she's going to see those same friends today. They are going to the mall. This is San Diego, so malls are outdoors. The mall also has a mask requirement, even in the outdoor spaces. It is the mall I took the kids to for pretzels before school started, and my observation was that the mask requirement was almost uniformly followed and that people kept their distance from others. So this outing feels OK to us.

I hate how every invitation has to be considered like this, but that is our reality now and I am trying to just roll with it.

Speaking of reality... I have long found the penchant for just ignoring reality to be one of the most exhausting and infuriating aspects of the current Republican party. Climate change? Not happening. Or if it is happening, it isn't humans. No need to do anything. We're protecting people with pre-existing conditions! What's that about a court challenge to the ACA? Oh, pay no attention to that. Here's a meaningless executive order instead. Isn't it nice? And so on. We're constantly being spun and outright lied to and told we're delusional for noticing it. You disagree with me on whether we should make changes to address climate change or whether people with pre-existing conditions should be guaranteed access to health insurance? Fine. But own your position and disagree honestly. Don't lie to me about it.

And now this reality distortion machine is turning its attention to the election. Just look at how the story of those nine military ballots in PA has played out. It is going to be like this until the election and possibly beyond. It is exhausting and I think that is part of the point. The intention is to normalize the idea that the electoral process is controversial and suspect, and that this election will end up decided by the Supreme Court.

I think it is a catastrophe for the country if this election ends up decided by the Court. I actually agree with David Frum's analysis on this (click through to read the whole thread):

But I also think that there is a similar problem if the court decides narrowly in the other direction. This election really needs to be decisively settled by the voters. 

You know what I'm going to say about how to help make sure that is the case: Write letters to low-propensity voters with Vote Forward. Write postcards to registered Democrats with Postcards to Voters. Pick a campaign and donate or volunteer (or both). Get involved with one of the independent get out the vote operations, like Let America Vote or Fair Fight. If you're young and healthy, consider being a poll worker. Give money to Pizza to the Polls to help send pizzas to people stuck in long lines at voting places to encourage them to stay and vote. If you would normally be a Republican voter who is putting country over party in this election but don't want to give money to the more Democratic-leaning options above, Pizza to the Polls is a good choice! Also check out Stand Up Republic and Republican Voters against Trump to see if one of those organizations has an option for getting involved that feels right to you.

And if you know someone in Pennsylvania who is planning to vote absentee... make sure they know abut the privacy envelope!

In short, I strongly encourage you to find a way to get involved and then do it. My experience is that taking action makes me feel less anxious. If I catch myself doom-scrolling Twitter, I sit down and write a couple of letters or postcards instead.

Trump and his enablers are trying to normalize the idea that there will be irregularities requiring the Supreme Court to decide the election because they are losing the election and they know it. Dan Pfeiffer has a good piece on this, and how we should think and talk about what is going on. 

That's not to say that I don't find this moment scary. I think we're in a very dangerous moment. Ezra Klein's recent interview with political scientist Suzanne Mettler on the four threats to democracy (guess what! We have all of them right now!) really highlights that. But it is a moment of opportunity, too, and people aren't giving up:

Even if we keep the election out of the Supreme Court, there is still probably going to be a 6-3 majority on the court. Should we fight this appointment? Sure, we should. I don't like our chances, but I didn't expect us to save the ACA back in 2017 and we did. If we lose this specific fight, I don't think we have to give up on the rights we care about, though. I went back and re-read the post I wrote two days after the 2016 election. I still believe those things. We mitigate harm while we take the issue to the states and look at other options for change, like passing new laws that address the concerns in the Court's rulings and working to change cultural opinion (I think this is what will eventually settle the gun issue, to be honest).

And we remember that even Justices we mostly don't agree with may make rulings on some issues that we do agree with. See, for instance, Gorsuch on Native American treaty rights.

In COVID-19 news... what is going on at the CDC and FDA is really alarming a lot of folks in biomedicine. Derek Lowe captures the situation well. I continue to think that there will be enough pressure on the companies working on vaccines to play it straight - coming both from external experts and their own internal staff - that we'll be able to tell whether or not we have evidence that a vaccine is safe and efficacious, regardless of what the Trump administration tries to do. For instance, the companies have published their study protocols, which is unusual but a welcome step right now. But the Trump administration will muddy the water for political purposes and make this harder than it needs to be.

There has also been some progress on trying to understand why some people get so much sicker than others with COVID-19. As this article in Science summarizes, two studies add support to the theory that those people do not have as much type I interferon. If this research holds up in further studies, this has clinical implications and may help us better treat COVID-19 while we wait for a vaccine.

Here are some things that made me smile this week:

I continue to enjoy looking at old vacation photos. Last week, I revisited a trip to Zion National Park that we took when Petunia was just a baby.

This picture:

This thread:

This needlework art:

This thread:

Here's your weekly bunny:

Happy weekend, everyone!

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Saturday Morning Thoughts, with a Few Links

I don't have anything profound to say today. I am sad and I am tired and a part of me wants to just turn inwards, stop caring so much, and find a way to live where all of this is not my problem. But I know that is a false path. As the pandemic has shown, there is no way to guarantee any of this stays "not my problem" and anyway, I just have to look at my children to remember why I need to stay in the fight. 

Reading the news of Ruth Bader Ginsberg's death was like a punch in the gut. I mourn her loss deeply, both because she was a great woman and because of what it means for our country. But it should never have been the case that our future depended on one woman staying alive and in her Supreme Court seat. Perhaps this can be the moment that shakes us up enough to realize that we cannot rely on individual people to be our saviors, whether they are Presidents, Supreme Court justices, or Congressional leaders. Our government is supposed to represent us all, and for that to work we need to look at how we got to where we are and think about what reforms we could enact that would make things more fair, and give the majority who want to deal with the problems we face a chance to do so.

I don't know what the right reforms are. I support making DC a state and giving Puerto Rico a chance to decide if they want to become a state, too, because I think people should have a voice in their government. I support reforms to limit gerrymandering and try to ensure that everyone's vote has equal weight, at least in electing the House. 

Beyond that, I am convincible. I have no great affinity for the electoral college and think those who fear doing away with it would take away rural voters' voices should perhaps come talk to some rural voters in California, whose voices are overwhelmed by those of us in the cities. 

We're clearly going to need to do something about the courts, but I don't know what that is. I am intrigued by the idea of making Supreme Court appointments a limited term, instead of lifetime, to ratchet down the high stakes brinkmanship we saw after Scalia's death and are now going to see again. I can see the merit of those arguing that we should expand the court if McConnell does what he says he will do and votes on Ginsberg's replacement while voting has already started, when he wouldn't even give Merrick Garland a hearing, but I suspect that option is just going to politicize the court further.

So I don't know what we should do right now, except - don't give up. I have seen a lot of people confidently stating what Ginsberg's death will mean to the election, to various precedents, and to things like abortion rights. But we don't know what the ultimate outcome will be, and so I think we just have to do the next right thing, to, uh, quote Frozen II. 

For me that is fighting hard to win the 2020 Presidential election, and win as many down ballot races as possible. I don't know how we fix the mess we're in, but I know we don't even get to try if we don't kick out Trump and the people who turned a blind eye to his corruption and anti-democratic behavior.

So here is what I'm doing today: continuing to write for Vote Forward. I think this weekend, I will also start writing postcards again with Postcards to Voters. There are active campaigns to help win down ballot races.

I am going to redirect some of my giving to political campaigns again. We'd been focusing on donations to help people in need due to the pandemic. We need to sit down and figure out the balance we think is right, but I decided to start by sending some money to Mike Espy, who is polling surprisingly well in Mississippi (better than McGrath polls in Kentucky...)

I will think on where to donate next. Possibly to Vote Save America's "Get Mitch" campaign, because we need to flip the Senate. Possibly to Pinboard's Great Slate, because I like the idea of investing in down ballot races that can help move some Senate races, too, and I think we need to fight everywhere. I like the idea of helping to pay off fines and fees for ex-felons in Florida, so that they can regain their full rights as citizens, including their right to vote.

I don't think we all have to agree on what the next right thing is, but I hope we can all agree that we should figure out what we think it is and do it. 

That's where I'm at this morning.

Here are some of the links I wanted to share with you:

If you haven't listened to Olivia Troye yet, here is the video:

She is a mid-career, lifelong Republican with everything to lose by speaking up. I doubt I agree with her on many issues, but I appreciate her service and am  impressed by her courage and integrity in speaking up. I hope she has a good team around her to buffer her from the inevitable reaction. I wish some of the men who have served in the Trump administration, are now at the end of the careers, and have less to lose would show some similar courage and speak up now.

I put off listening to Ezra Klein's interview with epidemiologist Julia Marcus about how to think about coronavirus risk. I am tired of thinking about coronavirus so much! But I am glad I finally listened to this podcast. She has a good way of framing the decisions we are all having to make, some insightful things to say about why it is such a failure that these decisions are all being pushed down to us as individuals, and a really good point about how we tend to turn fear into anger, and how that is counterproductive. I think some folks in San Diego would be well-served by thinking about that last point, as we face falling back into the most restrictive tier due to an outbreak among students at SDSU

Another thing I listened to this week that I really liked: Krista Tippett's interview with Rev. angel Kyodo williams about keeping hope alive in 2020 (and more - it is a really good conversation, and after I finished it, I went and re-listened to their 2018 conversation, too.)

Some things that made me happy this week:

I posted a new Where in the World quiz on Adjusted Latitudes. I am continuing my strategy of browsing old vacation photos to make me feel happier.

This picture:

And here's your weekly bunny:

I have a long list of things to do, and a desire to spend some time in my hammock now that the air is better... so I am going to end here. Don't give up hope. The fight is not over. 

Have a good weekend, everyone!

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Weekend Reading: The Trapped Indoors Edition

The heat pump installation fix last Saturday worked, and so we have AC. It was lucky that we got it when we did, because in addition to abnormally high heat, a fire broke out in East San Diego county last Saturday, and so our air quality was terrible most of the week. We've left the AC on all week even as the temperatures cooled because we didn't want to open the windows and let the outside air in.

Unfortunately, my HEPA air filter also stopped working this week. It could be just because it is old - I've had it for about 15 years. Or it could be because I forgot to turn it off when the heat pump installers were here and perhaps some of the insulation that got deposited all over our house got in it and clogged it. If I'm lucky, it is the latter and I can take it apart and unclog it this weekend. I hope so, because my eyes are burning and my nose is runny. I am not sure if that is from the fire or just my regular allergies but either way getting my HEPA filter back will help fix it!

It has sucked to need to stay indoors this week. As I mentioned in my last post, I miss sitting out in our backyard at dusk. However, I should be able to start that again soon, if our region's luck holds. The fire in the East county is mostly under control now and the air quality here is much better. I don't think I'll do any strenuous exercise outside this weekend, but I think I can sit outdoors this evening. I will be thinking of my friends in Northern California and Oregon who do not have that good fortune yet. 

So anyway, on to some links:

This Washington Post story about the people who are living in a decrepit motel near Disney World is heartbreaking. The lack of help available for them is a choice we make. It is a choice we make when we underfund social services, but it is also a choice we make when we won't allow enough housing to be built. Every area in the US has work to do in this regard, but the specific work is probably different in different places. It is easy to point at states like Florida that have gutted their social safety net and say they should shape up, but I guarantee you could find equally heartbreaking stories of people clinging to the edges of a desperate situation in every state. We should all own the problem and work to fix it.

I have been thinking about this a lot in regard to climate change. I came across a question from someone about what people can do to address climate change. I can't remember the context of the question, unfortunately, but I think the answer for almost all of us is to engage in the political system. Individual action isn't going to solve climate change (although we can all try to make choices that will help) and individual acts of charity aren't going to make it so that we don't have stories like the ones at the Star Motel. 

What we need to push for is probably different in different places. In the swing states, fighting to get Democrats elected may be the best first step. In deep red states, it might be engaging in issues activism to try to move the Republican officials you're sure to end up with to act on climate. Here in California, I am increasingly convinced the best thing I can do is speak up for allowing denser infill housing in urban areas. This issue is going to drive my vote in our upcoming mayoral election (between two Democrats) and I am starting to take other steps like leaving comments in support of housing and protected bike lanes during the public comment period of local planning decisions.

I am no expert on these issues so I won't pretend I know what the absolute best thing to do is any place, even San Diego. But I do think that if we want to make things better, we are going to have to push outside our comfort zone a bit and engage. 

Also, we absolutely have to get Biden elected. Four more years of Trump probably dooms us to a pretty bad climate outcome. We really need to change the Senate, too. There's a lot to work on right now, so I guess the good thing is we're spoiled for choice as to where we want to engage!

Moving on... 

I think Susan Matthews' essay about what she's learned in the last six months of pandemic-living is really good.

Anne Helen Peterson's essay about the habituation to horror and the need to fight it so that we can take advantage of this period of time in which real change might actually be possible is also really good.

The Politico story that broke last night about Trump political appointees trying to change what the CDC says in its scientific publications is just infuriating. This line, in particular, really struck me:

In one clash, an aide to Caputo berated CDC scientists for attempting to use the reports to "hurt the President" 

These people are so morally bankrupt that they can't recognize that the CDC scientists were attempting to use the reports to publish scientifically sound information and to help Americans avoid getting sick.

Here is an example of the sort of scientific report that the CDC publishes: An epidemiological study found that adults with positive COVID-19 tests were twice as likely to report having eaten in a restaurant than adults with a negative test. My first thought was maybe that is just indicative of higher risk-taking overall, but the report says:

In this investigation, participants with and without COVID-19 reported generally similar community exposures, with the exception of going to locations with on-site eating and drinking options.

So I think we'll continue to avoid indoor dining.

This observation from William Gibson is a good one:

And now for the things that made me happy this week:

I love this - both the fact that the city will install mosaics and the fact that so many people are making mosaic portraits of their cats:

A cool cloud in NZ:

A pretty bird:

This flower:

This art:

Here's your bunny of the week!

And some bonus bunnies, because this looks like an album cover. Tell me in the comments what type of music you think they play!

Happy weekend, everyone.

Wednesday, September 09, 2020

Dealing with Burnout When Everything is on Fire (Figuratively and Literally, It Turns Out)

Today was a hard day. I am feeling burned out, and there is no end to the cause of the burnout in sight. Work is busy, but it isn't work causing the burnout. It is everything else, and while I can take time off work, there is no escaping the everything else right now. So I have been thinking about what I can do to alleviate the burnout when I can't escape its cause. I decided that maybe writing a post about the things that have actually helped might help me think of more. 

One thing that has helped a lot is finding a book that can pull me in and thoroughly distract me. This is easier said than done. I have tried many books, and most have not done this. In the early days, I started to fear I wouldn't be able to read - I kept trying and not being able to stay focused on the book. But then I read the manuscript that will be the next Annorlunda Books release, Lagoonfire, by Francesca Forrest (cover reveal just posted this week!) and it completely sucked me in and I realized I'd just need to keep trying different books until I found one that absorbed me. Here are the books that have worked so far:

  • Agency, by William Gibson. I've written about this at length before. Even though The Jackpot feels disturbingly close, it is not the focus and the plot is so engrossing that both this book and The Peripheral (which is the first in the series) manage to feel like a warning and yet still be a fun read.
  • High Risk, by Chavi Eve Karkowsky. I knew from my days following the author's blog that the writing in this book would be wonderful. It is more than just beautiful writing, though: It is a well-constructed exploration of maternal-fetal health and I found it somehow calming despite the high stakes topics being discussed.
  • American by Day, by Derek B. Miller. I read this one because my book club picked it. I am so glad we picked it - I would never have found it otherwise, and it was a thoroughly diverting mystery/action story with some good thought-provoking things about American culture thrown in. I've got the first book in the series (Norwegian by Night) waiting for me to get time to try it.

And that's it. I've tried a lot of other books. Some, I finished (usually the book club books), others I decided to set aside and try in less distracting times. 

I would dearly love to find TV to watch that would feel good and distracting, but so far the only series we've watched that really worked for me is The Mandalorian. We watch a lot of 8 out of 10 Cats Does Countdown on YouTube, too, but that is more just a filler than a proper distraction.

We've been having family movie night just about every week. Mostly, I do this because the rest of the family likes it. But my recent choice of Bill and Ted Face the Music was a good one - for some reason, that movie made me really happy, and it gave me the escapism that people like about movies (most movies do not do this for me). 

I had hoped that getting back out on my rollerblades would help, but I am not sure it does. There are too many other people, even when I go early, and too many of them aren't wearing masks, creating extra stress around navigating the crowded spots. 

The exercise habit that seems to help the most right now is going for a walk in my neighborhood while listening to podcasts. I have recently started trying to go out for at least a short walk between the end of my work day and the time I need to start dinner. I found that I missed the way listening to podcasts on my drive home helped me switch off my work brain, and so I'm trying to replicate that with walks. 

I like to sit in our backyard with a glass of wine and watch the light fade and the birds fly over head. I haven't been able to do that this week. It looks like the fire that is fouling my air right now may be brought under control sooner than expected. We caught a break and had cooler weather and less wind than expected today. So maybe I'll be back to that habit soon.

If I am in the right mood, practicing embroidery is relaxing. I usually listen to podcasts while I do that, too. I may decide I am ready to move on from just practicing stitches to stitching a simple design.

One of the things I usually do when I'm feeling burned out is plan a getaway - even if it is just a day trip somewhere close to home, getting away helps. This is not possible now, and so I have turned to looking through photos from past vacations. This has been surprisingly helpful. I wrote about my latest trip down memory lane over at Adjusted Latitudes. Maybe I should try to post more there, if only to get time browsing through old photos!

The other thing I find soothing is listening to music on YouTube, and trying to find new things. I guess it is a way to explore when we can't actually go out and explore. Here is one of the new songs Mr. Snarky and I found and like:

And that's all I have. I will piece together some combination of things to get past this bout of burnout. What are you doing these days to keep yourself feeling somewhat OK?

Saturday, September 05, 2020

Weekend Reading: The Heat Wave Edition

We're heading into a heat wave. I am sitting at my dining table sipping my morning tea so it is not super hot yet... but it will be. We happened to be getting the heat pump that replaces our aging furnace installed this week. It was supposed to be operational yesterday afternoon, and since heat pump also means AC, we were expecting to have air conditioning this weekend. But something was wrong with the circuit board or something went wrong during the installation and fried the board. They looked to see if they could get a replacement, but none were in stock at their supplier, so they'd have to order from the manufacturer... so no AC yet. We had resigned ourselves to a hot weekend. After all, we've been in the house for 13 years (almost exactly - we moved in on Labor Day weekend 13 years ago!) and have survived several heat waves.

This morning, I heard my husband's phone buzzing. He was still asleep, so I picked it up. I saw that it was the owner of the company that is installing our heat pump. They found another unit they could take the circuit board from. The installer is going to come fix our unit today. Maybe we'll have AC after all? In which case, the new standing argument in our household will be about whether to turn on the air, and if it is on, what to set the thermostat to. (My husband likes it 76. I think that is ridiculous cold and think we should set it at 78 and probably wouldn't turn it on until it was over 80 in the house.)

We are genuinely grateful that the installer is coming out on the Saturday of Labor Day weekend, and that the owner is arranging for it. We suspect they are making the same calculation all the solar panel sales folk make when they see our house: Tesla in the driveway, no solar panels on the roof. These people will be buying solar panels soon! The company installing our heat pump also installs solar panels, and they know that we selected an all-electric heat pump and prioritized energy efficiency over low cost. They have to be fairly certain we'll be getting solar panels soon. And they are right! That is next on our list. 

Anyway, let's have some links. I don't have many this week, but here's what I have:

I decided that we needed to replace our furnace with a heat pump after listening to Ezra Klein talk to Saul Griffith about how electrifying everything is a path towards decarbonization. This week, I listened to Klein's new interview with Griffith about his plan for how we can rapidly decarbonize. It is a good, inspiring interview. We are already feeling the effects of our changing climate (hello, heat wave!) and we are running out of time to act. Griffith's plan is a plausible way we can act - it doesn't assume huge and unlikely lifestyle changes. He has some interesting ideas about how to get the existing energy sector to stop fighting the needed changes, too. 

The woman who was filmed being surrounded by protesters while she ate her dinner wrote a really good response to what happened - I agree with her that this was a local event that didn't need to become a national discussion. I think we need to relearn how to keep some things local.

Derek Lowe has an excellent round up of where things stand with the various COVID-19 vaccine efforts

Pharma companies are also apparently planning to pledge not to send their vaccines for FDA review without extensive safety and efficacy data. That they feel the need to issue such a pledge is a sad statement on what has happened to our federal scientific agencies in recent years. It is particularly apparent to us now during the coronavirus crisis, but similar pressure for politics to overrule science has been happening at the EPA for the entire Trump presidency. 

Anyway, given how the Trump administration is behaving, I think this is a good move from the companies. I've seen a lot of cynical takes, but there are two reasons I think this is on the level: (1) it is in pharma and biotech companies' interest for the public to remain confident in the FDA approval process, and (2) pharma and biotech companies are full of people who understand the science of the pandemic and know that an effective and trusted vaccine is our only way out of this in the long term. Their work has been seriously disrupted by the pandemic. They have reduced the number of people who can be in a lab at the same time so lab time is scheduled and not readily available, they are wearing masks at work and working from home when not in the lab. Clinical trials for treatments for non-COVID diseases were put on hold for awhile. It is no in their interest to rush out a vaccine without solid efficacy and safety data and the trust of the public.

And now for things that made me happy:

Here is a nice reminder that the world is full beauty and awe-inspiring things if we can still see them:

And here is another, funnier reminder of the same:

This little girl is wonderful:

And she got her wish:

Embroidery bunny!

Real bunny:

Have a good weekend, everyone!